They say visiting the Arlington cemetery will change you. There are no words to explain what that even means. This is my attempt.
The purpose of my journey was to lay wreaths at the markers and speak out loud the names etched into the stones. Wreaths Across America started as one man’s dedication and has grown into a national movement that coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies across the nation, at sea and abroad.
After arriving, I shuffled into the crowd and claimed a spot in the sidewalk progression. The sleet that covered every surface of the landscape was slowly creeping into the layers of my clothing. Regardless of the weather, there were thousands of people descending from all directions and distances. This silent homage in itself was an incredible sight to see.
As I passed the gates, the acres of graves began to unfold into view. The impact of war was stretched for miles and in every direction. With my heart sinking from the weight, I realized how important and how incredibly hard this task was going to be.
I made my way to the boxes of wreaths, looped as many wreaths as I could on both arms and crossed the chained boundary of the sidewalk that separated the graves. At first, I walked past stone after stone, pausing to silently read each name, their rank and silently calculating the chronology of their lives. The more I passed, the more I wanted to hear the stories hidden in between the dash of their birthday and the last day on this earth. Randomly selecting, I announced and adorned several sites throughout the cemetery, These soldiers, much like us, had lives focused on family, friends and finding their place in the world.
As I made my through the maze of stones and people towards the exit, I started to notice the world around me. Witnessing families in tears, active-duty military marching and elderly women at the feet of departed husbands pushed me into an emotionally humbling state of what it truly means to be an American. I’m convinced that anyone there that day gained an overwhelming sense of restored hope in our country. Being in the geographic heart of political and historical America, thousands of people gathered leaving their religions, opinions, agendas, and differences behind to honor our freedom and those who paid the ultimate price….and we did it together.
Alone we can do so little;
together we can do so much.
– Helen Keller